I should have known how wrong things were when she rang my bell suddenly at midnight on a day before work. I didn’t know what to do and at first considered not ringing her in. I hadn’t heard from her for at least ten years. I rang her up and tried to make short work of it but spent over an hour listening to her repeat the same sentences, sometimes as many as three times. I knew something was amiss but couldn’t figure it out. I wondered if my old friend had Alzheimer's. Sally was only 43. How could she have Alzheimer’s? It seemed strange that she would repeat sentences I told her and act like it was the first time she asked the question. I gently asked her, “Sally, don’t you recall? We just said this same thing 20 minutes ago. Realizing that it was now going on 1 a.m., I told Sally I had to get up at 6 for work the next day and escorted her to the front of my building both of us promising to keep in touch. After many unanswered calls, I ran into John, her ex-husband, in front of the hospital where he’d worked for 25 years. It was 10 p.m. He sat there calmly eating a sandwich in his blue scrubs, chatting with a co-worker.
“How’s Sally?” I asked.
“Didn’t you hear?” John responded.
“Dead from what?” I asked surprised.
“She died in her apartment about a month ago. She’d been dead at least a week and neighbors noticed the smell.”
“She visited me two months ago and I hadn’t seen her for years,” I said. “She showed up at midnight.”
John laughed. “That would be Sally,” he said. “No one could handle being around her anymore. Even our daughters moved in with me.”
“I didn’t know that. How old are they?”
“Stephanie started college this fall and she’s 18. Brenda is 23 and just graduated Queens College.”
“Congratulations,” I said. “How did Sally die?”
“Sally just stopped eating and going out. She was found on her bed. They said it was death through starvation.”
“Oh my God! Just starved herself to death just like that?”
“She said she was too fat and needed to diet. She used to come here on my lunch hour and sit here with me while I ate my sandwich. She did it at least once a week.”
“Yes she told me too she’d gotten too fat but she didn’t seem too fat. Maybe she could’ve stood to lose 15 or 20 pounds. She had no one else in her life?”
“Her mother died some time ago. Her grandmother is gone too. There was no one left. I guess that’s why she used to come here to sit with me. She had no one else in her life.”
“No one knew how desperate she was?”
“We were all used to her eccentricity. When she showed up here a month ago and said she was starting a new diet, we figured, here goes Sally again, off on a new spin.”
“No one saw how ill she was,” I said, “not even me. I saw she repeated herself over and over but I didn’t suspect things were that bad that she’d starve herself to death in seclusion.”
We said our goodbyes and I left wondering if there was anything I could have done to prevent her death. I knew her mom had been institutionalized when Sally was a child and we used to hang out at her grandma’s apartment. I remember we visited her mom together in the institution. Her mom never left the hospital except once for a visit. I remember grandma made us matching dresses in a beautiful stretch nylon sleeveless with a round neck and knee length. Sally’s dress was gold, burnt sienna and brown diamond patterned and mine was blue, turquoise and green diamond shaped pattern. I remember because it was the first really pretty sexy dress I had clinging to all my curves. Back then I wore a size 34 size A bra and had a 25 inch waist. I weighed 125 pounds. Sally weighed 115 and had brown gold eyes and a heart shaped face. I introduced her to her husband. She married him when she turned 17 and was pregnant with her first child.
I sit here today, 18 years later, remembering Sally and wondering if anything could have prevented her death. I miss Sally too as she was my first true friend.
Sally took this pic of me in the dress her grandma made for me when we were 14 years old.